County says it can't afford water study
Regional planners asking all counties to help with cost
By Megan Twohey
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Racine County has been asked to contribute $60,000 to a
regional water study, but the county's top official says
taxpayers can't afford the bill.
The study would determine how long the groundwater supply
will last in the western part of the county and whether
communities such as Union Grove could one day get water
from Lake Michigan.
Philip Evenson, executive director of the regional commission
spearheading the project, briefed the county's Economic
Development and Land Use Planning Committee about the
Evenson, who took his request for funding to the county's
Planning and Development Department in the fall, wants
to know why the county has yet to act.
It is unclear how long the water supply can be sustained
with the rapid growth of development in western Racine
County, he said.
"Anyone who has to rely on groundwater for development
should be concerned about questions of sustainability,"
But Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds said Monday
that the county can't spare any money, and he took offense
at the timing of the request.
"I find it rather disturbing that five days into
the new year, Evenson's going to a board and asking for
$60,000," McReynolds said. "At this point, we've
had to eliminate 60 jobs. Where does he expect us to find
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission
had hoped to launch the three-year study within the next
two months, but it's unclear how it would be conducted
without all funding.
It's not the first time the study has run into trouble
since it was first conceived by a committee of officials
from local governments in 2002.
The committee determined that a study was needed for
managing water resources. With $731,000 collected from
seven counties and more than $250,000 of its own money,
the regional planning commission plans to survey groundwater
and Lake Michigan water supplies. It then will craft creative
ways local governments can maximize water use.
While five counties, including Kenosha and Waukesha,
already have committed money for the study, Milwaukee
County has proven reluctant.
Government officials there worry that the study could
drain tight government dollars. Former Milwaukee Mayor
John O. Norquist has lambasted the project as a ploy to
steal Lake Michigan water for the suburbs.
But it's important for Racine County to pitch in because
the study would be useful for western Racine County, where
development is growing and water tables are steadily dropping,
said Tom Bunker, a member of the panel that proposed the
study. Bunker is general manager of the City of Racine
Water and Wastewater Utility.
"It's a study that has to be done, and the sooner
the better," Bunker said.
Julie Anderson, director of Racine County planning and
development, said her office is considering the request.